News Feature | April 2, 2019

Wastewater Methane Could Soon Power SoCal

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

Wastewater treatment facilities have emerged as a promising option to increase resource efficiency and sustainability — converting effluent into reusable drinking water and harvesting natural fuel along the way. Now, power utilities in California want to make the most of this potential for their customers.

“Southern California utility companies say they want to offer their customers what they say is a greener option for natural gas,” KPBS reported. “The gas comes from some unlikely sources: wastewater treatment plants.”

The plan is to utilize the organic waste that results from wastewater treatment processes, as well as from landfills and dairy operations, and harvest the methane that it produces.

“This is using a product that would ordinarily be wasted,” a rep for BioFuels Energy, a company that is turning wastewater into gas at a Southern California wastewater facility, told KPBS. “It’s sludge being contributed every day, so it’s renewable in that regard, so this gas is being produced, treated and used where it would otherwise be going into the atmosphere and be wasted.”

According to the report, two gas and electric companies are hoping to replicate the BioFuels process at additional wastewater treatment facilities, landfills, or dairy farms as soon as next year. The effort should also help California reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, something the state is required to do by law.

“Renewable natural gas is produced from the largest waste streams in society today — landfills, diverted food waste, wastewater plants and livestock operation,” according to CALmatters. “These waste sources emit methane — a highly potent greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere. Renewable natural gas projects prevent this from happening, by capturing the methane and converting it into an ultra-low-carb renewable fuel or electricity.”

But the concept may not be as good for the environment as it is cracked up to be. An advocate from Sierra Club, a nonprofit environmental organization, noted that harvesting wastewater methane still wouldn’t be as environmentally friendly as converting to electric power.

“The other option that the gas industry doesn’t like to talk about is electrification and that basically means replacing our gas combustion appliances with super-efficient modern electric technology that can save us on our energy bills, improves indoor air quality and is far better for the climate,” the advocate told KPBS.

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